Veronica Cassidy Barry, ’89: Providing Relief in Sandy’s Wake
January 8, 2013 by Lisa McMahon, M.A.'09
Superstorm Sandy is an emotional topic for Veronica Cassidy Barry, ’89, to talk about. After all, both her childhood home and the home of her sister, Sheila, ’93, in Belle Harbor, N.Y., were damaged during the storm surge that hit this Rockaway peninsula suburb on October 29. But she’s channeled her grief into something positive: volunteering to help her neighbors in numerous ways.
“I’ve had the opportunity to play matchmaker,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to connect the haves with the have-nots.”
She’s driven the 45 minutes from her home in Douglaston almost every day since the storm, handing out food, assisting with toy drives and Christmas parties, and helping people get in contact with the organizations that can help them. She spends most of her time working with the relief centers and efforts being coordinated by her home parish, St. Francis de Sales, and by Navillus, a contractor in New York City that was involved with the building of the 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center.
Veronica’s selfless efforts belie the fact that her family has also suffered from the storm. She tells of the day she visited her family home with her 82-year-old father. The basement was submerged in ocean water, sewage, oil, and sand, and priceless personal items, like baby clothes and her Niagara yearbook, were floating in front of the house. She notes that her parents have been staying with her and her sister, Mary, ’90, and that Sheila’s family has had to rent an apartment because they don’t know how long it will be until they can return to their home.
At first, she says, they thought it would be fun. October 29 was her parents’ 46th wedding anniversary so, after she helped to evacuate them, everyone gathered at her house to celebrate.
“We had a little cake for them and it was kind of fun, everyone was in the house,” she recalls. “We never thought that all this time later we’d still have no electricity, we’d be missing windows … We never thought things would be this bad.”
And so Veronica decided to help. That very day, she met volunteers from Navillus and told them about Mighty Mikey, a six-year-old boy with cancer who lived down her parents’ street. The men immediately went to his house to help clear the debris.
That’s how things have been working in Rockaway, she says.
“People are looking for someone to be in charge, so when they see a familiar face they just go to you,” Veronica says. Her knowledge of both the local organizations and people who have needs has made her a point person for the volunteers.
When a friend brought her a generator, Veronica gave it to neighbors who needed it. When that generator needed gasoline, she enlisted the help of a friend in the National Guard. That same friend came through for her when she learned of a baby on Long Island who was on a ventilator powered by a generator.
Midshipmen from the Newman Club at the U. S. Merchant Marine Academy, where Veronica has worked for the past seven years, stepped up as well. Joined by the plebe class, nearly 300 of these young men and women arrived in eight school buses that they paid for themselves to do whatever they could to help. They’ve been there several times since.
Veronica was able to obtain heaters for an apartment building that had been without heat for six weeks, and urged St. Francis de Sales to expand its relief efforts beyond the parish when she saw how much help was needed around the peninsula. She even coordinated the delivery of kosher food to the two relief centers it set up.
Veronica’s husband, Jay, and daughters Kiera, Cassidy, and Clare, joined her in distributing food on Thanksgiving Day, forgoing their family dinner so that they could help others to have holiday dinners of their own. Her daughters have been so inspired by their mother’s work that they organized a volunteer project at their school: making ornaments to decorate the Christmas tree that was featured in footage at the 12.12.12 Concert for Sandy Relief.
Understandably, Veronica has had little time to reflect on her experiences and the impact the volunteers have made on her community. Yet she is quick to note that her Niagara experience was a motivating factor.
“Niagara instilled the mission of St. Vincent de Paul: how individuals can help other individuals, and how service is part of who we are,” she says. “All I’ve been saying this whole time is that you don’t have to be part of a big organization. You just have to show up and be willing to help and people will give you something to do. Even if it’s just helping someone smile, or talking about their experience, it makes a huge difference.”
Anyone who wishes to donate to Rockaway’s recovery can go to www.graybeards.com.